Huntington Disease (cont.)
In this Article
- Introduction to Huntington's disease
- What causes Huntington's disease?
- How is Huntington's disease inherited?
- What are the symptoms and major effects of Huntington's disease?
- At what age does Huntington's disease appear?
- How is Huntington's disease diagnosed?
- What is presymptomatic testing?
- How is the presymptomatic test conducted?
- How does a person decide whether to be tested?
- Is there a treatment for Huntington's disease?
- What kind of care does an individual with Huntington's disease need?
- What community resources are available for Huntington's disease?
- What research is being done on Huntington's disease?
- How can I help?
- What is the role of voluntary organizations?
- Where can I get more information about Huntington's disease?
What are the symptoms and major effects of Huntington's disease?
Early signs of the disease vary greatly from person to person. A common observation is that the earlier the symptoms appear, the faster the disease progresses.
Family members may first notice that the individual experiences mood swings or becomes uncharacteristically irritable, apathetic, passive, depressed, or angry. These symptoms may lessen as the disease progresses or, in some individuals, may continue and include hostile outbursts or deep bouts of depression.
HD may affect the individual's judgment, memory, and other cognitive functions. Early signs might include having trouble driving, learning new things, remembering a fact, answering a question, or making a decision. Some may even display changes in handwriting. As the disease progresses, concentration on intellectual tasks becomes increasingly difficult.
In some individuals, the disease may begin with uncontrolled movements in the fingers, feet, face, or trunk. These movements, which are signs of chorea, often intensify when the person is anxious. HD can also begin with mild clumsiness or problems with balance. Some people develop choreic movements later, after the disease has progressed. They may stumble or appear uncoordinated. Chorea often creates serious problems with walking, increasing the likelihood of falls.
The disease can reach the point where speech is slurred and vital functions, such as swallowing, eating, speaking, and especially walking, continue to decline. Some individuals cannot recognize other family members. Many, however, remain aware of their environment and are able to express emotions.
Some physicians have employed a recently developed Unified HD Rating Scale, or UHDRS, to assess the clinical features, stages, and course of HD. In general, the duration of the illness ranges from 10 to 30 years. The most common causes of death are infection (most often pneumonia), injuries related to a fall, or other complications.
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